Kim: Oregon hitting its stride as they head into Pac-12 title game
CORVALLIS – For the seventh consecutive season, Oregon maintained its bragging rights against in-state rival Oregon State, winning the 118th Civil War with ease.
Last season, the historic rivalry game – dating back to 1894 – came down to a memorable late game connection between Marcus Mariota and Josh Huff, but tonight, that wasn’t necessary.
Instead, the Ducks ran and passed all over the Beavers, eventually emptying out a freezing Reser Stadium with a 47-19 win.
Oregon, who now prepares for its rematch with Arizona in the upcoming Pac-12 title game, is undoubtedly hitting its stride on both sides of the ball and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
Mark Helfrich may not admit to it publicly, but deep down, this is what he and his staff have been planning all year long.
Now, it’s going to be a matter of finishing strong in the postseason.
Simply put, the Ducks could not be stopped on offense. While Mariota calmly recorded six touchdowns, complementing his 367 passing yards, Royce Freeman and Byron Marshall also made their case for game MVP.
“That was one of his (Mariota) best games,” Offensive Coordinator Scott Frost said.
Freeman, who led the Oregon running game with 135 yards, had his fifth 100-yard rushing performance of the year, while Marshall boasted his third-best receiving performance of the year with 131 yards.
“His play has said everything about how he is as a person,” Mariota said about Freeman. “The ceiling is so high for that kid and the future is very bright for him.”
Even without Thomas Tyner, who did not suit up due to a shoulder/ankle injury suffered in practice, the Ducks looked to be in full force.
“We’re really clicking on all the cylinders,” Marshall said. “Everyone is coming out ready and excited to play.”
Making it to the Big Apple
Heading into the final stretch of the regular season, there is no doubt that Mariota will be among the finalists for this year’s Hesiman trophy. If it weren’t for a late season push by Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, Mariota would have already had it in the bag.
Having said that, in what will likely be his final Civil War, Mariota was at his best, setting a new Pac-12 record with 48 touchdowns.
There is no telling how the Heisman race will eventually play out, but for now, Mariota has to like his chances.
An awaited rematch
Understandably, most Oregon players, including Helfrich, hesitated to look ahead towards their rematch with Arizona in the upcoming Pac-12 title game. But for others, the opportunity to play the Wildcats again was exactly what they’ve been waiting for.
“I don’t know about everyone else, but I wanted to play them (Arizona),” Marshall said.
One of the hardest challenges in sports is to beat the same team twice in one season and from that standpoint, the Ducks have to like their odds.
So, as the Ducks look forward to ridding their two-year skid against the Wildcats, everything will be on the line, which includes a bid to the inaugural College Football Playoff.
“Certainly, our guys know the coulda, woulda, shoulda, of that night (loss to Arizona),” Helfrich said. “We’ll be excited.”
Tony Washington may not have had much to say about the potential to redeem his costly unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the last matchup, but there’s no need. For Washington, as well as his teammates, the implications couldn’t be bigger or more enticing.
A bid farewell
As Mariota likely exits Reser Stadium for the last time, he will have left behind countless highlights and a perfect Civil War record.
Mariota got to share a moment with much of his immediate family following the win. It couldn’t have pictured a better ending to what will presumably be the conclusion to his college career.
“It’s very important to have all my close relatives and immediate family here today,” Mariota said. “To have them in the crowd was huge. It’s always a special time when everybody is together.”
Freeman wasn’t shy about how appreciative he was playing with Mariota, preaching to all returners to “take note” of how he leads.
“Marcus is a great competitor and a great leader on the team,” Freeman said. “We all need to take notes from him and lead the team how he’s going to leave it, so I’m very appreciative to have played with Marcus whether he leaves or not.”
Whether or not Mariota makes the jump to the NFL next year, the Ducks will need to move on from Mariota at some point. Luckily for them, they have a solid foundation to build on.
“We think they (Freeman, Marshall, etc.) can be go-to guys today or next Friday,” Helfrich said about eventually replacing Mariota. “Those guys, again, are cut from the same cloth: they’re very similar competitively, constantly want to compete and constantly want to improve.”
Follow Hayden Kim on Twitter @HayDayKim
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